Salvadoran leftist becomes president

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador - A journalist from a party of former Marxist guerrillas became El Salvador's first leftist president yesterday, promising to remain friendly with the United States while immediately restoring ties with Cuba.

Mauricio Funes brought to power the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front that fought for 12 years to overthrow U.S.-backed governments until laying down its arms in 1992.

But he sought to ease fears of radicalism by comparing himself to President Obama as well as Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a leftist who has maintained warm ties with leaders across the political spectrum.

"We turned to the strong examples of Obama and Lula as proof that progressive leaders, instead of being a threat, can be a new, safe alternative for their people," Funes said in his inaugural address.

- AP

Arson kills five as Iran vote nears

TEHRAN, Iran - Five people died yesterday in an arson attack on an Iranian bank in the southeastern city of Zahedan, where a suicide bombing in a Shiite mosque last week killed 25 people.

Violence in the ethnically mixed city near Iran's border with Pakistan and Afghanistan and bomb threats and attacks on opposition figures elsewhere have ratcheted up tension in the country ahead of presidential elections June 12.

The arson attack capped several days of violence in Sistan va Baluchistan, where a Sunni Islamist group called Jundullah has claimed responsibility for the mosque bombing Thursday. According to Iran, the group receives support from the United States and is linked to al-Qaeda.

- Washington Post

Russia honors biggest families

MOSCOW - Russia has a long tradition of honoring its soldiers, scholars, and scientists for outsized achievements. Yesterday, it honored parents with outsized families with the "Order of Parental Glory" - part of a campaign to halt a dramatic population decline.

President Dmitry A. Medvedev gave couples with four, nine, 11, and as many as 16 children a hero's welcome in a gilded Kremlin reception hall.

Russia has seen its population plummet since the 1991 Soviet collapse, with alcoholism, AIDS, pollution, and poverty leading to early deaths and discouraging births. Demographers warn the population could decline from 142 million today to 110 million or less by 2050. - AP

Elsewhere:

Vandals in Italy threw paint-filled balloons at a controversial museum designed by U.S. architect Richard Meier, splashing the red and green colors of Italy's flag against the outside wall, police said. The vandals also left a porcelain toilet and toilet paper next to the Ara Pacis museum at a piazza in central Rome.

An underground fire in an abandoned shaft has killed 36 illegal miners, South Africa's Harmony Gold Mining Co. Ltd. said. The company said it would not send its own workers to search for others because the Eland mine "is extremely dangerous."